Viking re-enactors dress for battle in York's annual Jorvik Viking Festival.
Who were the Vikings?
Notorious for their violent raids, the Vikings influenced everything from language to tax systems throughout much of the world.
Helmets with horns. Massive ships. Brutal warfare. When it comes to the Vikings—Scandinavian seafarers known for their far-flung raids on other people—stereotypes and misconceptions abound. Who were these nautical explorers, really, and should they even be called Vikings?
That’s a controversial concept. The word was initially used to describe not a people, but rather the activity of exploring, piracy, or raiding. After being revived in English in the 19th century, the term “Viking” came to represent the Scandinavian seafarers who ventured beyond their borders to explore, raid, and ultimately settle between about 790 and 1100 A.D.
Those raiding journeys were expansive and often violent. Beginning in the 790s, Scandinavian pirates sailed south and attacked largely defenseless monasteries in